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Meet Justina Shandler

Today we’d like to introduce you to Justina Shandler.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Justina. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
It all started… in the womb. Before I emerged into the world, I was inundated with Barbara Streisand and Billy Joel. I pretty much came out singing. My mom is tone-deaf and constantly singing; my dad is a closeted singer-songwriter. Needless to say, I had a very musical childhood. Soon enough, I was writing short stories and singing them acappella to improvised melody. To me, everything sounded better sung.

Flash forward a lot of years, I transfer to a small private arts high school ( where a gravel-voiced ponytailed John McBroom invited me to join the school’s rock band class, held in the dimly lit basement of the school. I distinctly remember feeling like one of the cool kids when I became the band’s keyboardist. I went on to win several songwriting competitions, notably through Carnegie Hall, got to play with Sara Bareilles’ band in New York City, and spent a few months on cloud 9. Community High School gave me the confidence to believe in my unique abilities and weirdness.

I took my weird to new heights when I moved to the weirdest state in the US to attend the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. I stayed there until I earned a proper tan and masters degree. I also was fortunate enough to teach songwriting to incarcerated men in two Florida prisons through a nonprofit organization called Exchange for Change ( Stereotypes were shattered and hearts were opened – the Miami people I miss most are behind bars.

Boulder, Colorado was my next stop. I lived there for a year studying at Watson University ( to earn a certificate in Social Entrepreneurship, in an effort to bring music into prisons nationwide. Through that experience, I learned that it is very easy to be a vegan in Boulder and that running a company is not for me. My sense of urgency to make the world better with music remains, unwavering.

I am now an adjunct professor at the University of Miami teaching songwriting online. I’ve wanted to pursue songwriting in Los Angeles for years, and am finally doing it this fall. My goal is to be like Alan Menken and write songs for Disney movies. “Colors of the Wind” will likely always be my favorite song.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I am lucky to have enjoyed the majority of my road thus far! I have struggled setting priorities in my career and with relationships in my life. I have tended to say yes to all projects and people, spreading myself too thin. Going forward, I aim to be more intentional with the people and projects I engage with. I am a naturally curious person who wants to try everything…I just need to reign it in sometimes.

Please tell us about your work.
I specialize in bringing joy to people through songwriting and teaching. I teach private songwriting lessons, play private events from house shows to weddings, write custom songs, and lead songwriting workshops. I have been referred to as “Song Mom” by University of Miami students. Currently, I am in the woods by the lake in Interlochen, Michigan teaching songwriting at an arts camp. It is heavenly!

I haven’t exactly polled students or clients, but if I had to guess… I am known for my enthusiasm and willingness to talk about deep, sometimes uncomfortable topics with a light touch. If you come to one of my shows, you’ll notice that some of my songs contain heavy topics blended with humor and sarcasm. I think that sets me apart from others. I am unafraid to dive into the true suffering of being human while maintaining cleverness, accessibility, and sometimes danceability!

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
I can’t pick just one!

Every Halloween, we would make spaghetti with a few drops of red food coloring, so we were eating BLOOD!

My dad has ticklish feet, and my sister and I were only allowed to tickle him every Thursday. Surprising him with a good Thursday tickle was always a thrill.

Another one… my mom would read me Shel Silverstein in our backyard treehouse, and sing me lullabies to sleep, after tucking me in ‘like a mermaid.’ I have many fond memories at petting zoos and pumpkin patches and playgrounds, where I always enjoyed eating sand and grass and whatever else I could get my hands on.

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1 Comment

  1. Maryann

    August 21, 2019 at 00:00

    Nice interview! Have to come back to listen to you. No time now.

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